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Ian Fleming was born in London on May 28, 1908. He was educated at Eton College and later spent a formative period studying languages in Europe. His first job was with Reuters News Agency where a Moscow posting gave him firsthand experience with what would become his literary bete noire--the Soviet Union. During World War II he served as Assistant to the Director of Naval Intelligence and played a key role in Allied espionage operations.
After the war he worked as foreign manager of the Sunday Times, a job that allowed him to spend two months each year in Jamaica. Here, in 1952, at his home "Goldeneye," he wrote a book called Casino Royale--and James Bond was born. The first print run sold out within a month. For the next twelve years Fleming produced a novel a year featuring Special Agent 007, the most famous spy of the century. His travels, interests, and wartime experience lent authority to everything he wrote. Raymond Chandler described him as "the most forceful and driving writer of thrillers in England." Sales soared when President Kennedy named the fifth title, From Russia With Love, one of his favorite books. The Bond novels have sold more than one hundred million copies worldwide, boosted by the hugely successful film franchise that began in 1962 with the release of Dr. No.
He married Anne Rothermere in 1952. His story about a magical car, written in 1961 for their only son Caspar, went on to become the well-loved novel and film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
Fleming died of heart failure on August 12, 1964, at the age of fifty-six.
FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE is generally considered to be the very best James Bond book. In this case, conventional wisdom is right. I recently re-read the book, originally published in 1957, and it was even better than I remember it being. First, the flaws: Like most Flemming novels, much of the plot is implausible. The story revolves around a scheme by the Soviets to embarrass the British Secret Service by killing James Bond in a compromising position. Perhaps it is because we live in a post-Monica Lewinski world, but this doesn't seem to be that much of a big deal. The movie version of FRWL seems to acknowledge the weakness of the reasoning behind the sequence of events that make up the story. The movie makes Bond's planned embarrassing death a secondary consequence of the villains' (this time SPECTER, not the Soviets) plot to steal the Russian decoder, which in the book is merely used as bait. Another common problem with Flemming's Bond, which is again on display, is that he is rather gullible and pretty much goes along for the ride without using his wits to solve mysteries or get out of jams. In FRWL he misses obvious clues, believes a thinly disguised enemy agent enough to hand over his gun without much of a thought, and fails to ever put "two and two together."
Despite all the flaws, FRWL is a great book. If the plot has holes, the collection of words are beautiful in themselves, from Flemming's detailed description of food and drink, to the combat scenes that really come to life in this book. The character of Bond is more interesting here than in previous books - he demonstrates a sense of humor and playfulness, shows emotion and even has moments of reflection. The series of villains, while cartoonish, are fun. The lurking presence of Red Grant is menacing.Read more ›
The Russian counter-espionage organization known as SMERSH concocts an elaborate plot to discredit the British Secret Service. Their immediate target for blackmail and murder: James Bond.
This is a classic spy novel by Ian Fleming. It is not a half-baked if well intentioned imitation. It presents Bond in his pristine form before filmmakers evolved him into a cartoon character. Ian Fleming blends the sophistication of the best English mystery writers such as Dorothy Sayers with the hard-boiled edginess of the best American detective fiction. The prose is clean, lean, and literate. Bond is an iron fist in a velvet glove. His taste in food and wine is flawless. He kills with grim determination, as needed. Snobbery is evident in his character. Bond does not tolerate fools gladly. He is fiercely loyal to his friends, of which he has very few. Darko Kerim is a brilliant exception to Bond's rule of keeping people at a distance. Darko lives a life of furious indulgence, even dissipation. Darko dreads only the Iron Crab, Ian Fleming's personal vision of the Grim Reaper. On a lighter note, delectable women are also admitted into Bond's affections. Tatiana Romanova joins the ranks of Bond "girls," although her loyalties are questionable. Rosa Klebb is a change from Fleming's megalomaniac super-villains. She ruthlessly works behind the scenes, and does not aspire to hold the world for ransom. Klebb is also one of Fleming's most repulsive characters. She is of indeterminate sexual inclinations and disgusting personal habits. Grant, a true madman, is as cold-blooded a killer as ever presented in mystery-adventure fiction. The novel ends ambiguously. Much as Conan Doyle, Fleming considered the idea of killing his main character.Read more ›
The fifth Bond book is far and away the best I've read of the series. Much of its strength comes from an excellent beginningóalmost a quarter of the book passes before Bond appears. The story starts in Moscow, where the Soviet intelligence community has decided it needs to pull off a major coup in order to maintain its prestige. The SMERSH division (for those who are new to the series, or for whom it's motto of "Death To Spies" isn't clear enough, SMERSH is in charge of eliminating internal and external spies) is tasked with killing that perpetual thorn in the side of international communism, James Bond. All the major villains are introduced in this early section, from the psychotic ace hit man (alas, his full-moon madness is an unnecessary and silly element), to the deviant older woman who runs the operation, to the chess mastermind who plans it, and finally, the beautiful and more or less innocent honey pot who will be set in front of Bond as bait. Two of these scenes are mini-masterpieces, the very first, where the naked hit man lies by his pool and gets his massage, and then later, when the planner is met in the middle of the Moscow city championship match. Only after all the pieces are in place, does Fleming finally pull away the curtain to reveal the object of all this attention, 007. This is a brilliant technique for heightening interest in a character and building suspense (Hitchcock was the master of it), and it sets the stage beautifully. We find Bond more or less indolent, having recently broken up with Tiffany Case (his girl from Diamonds Are Forever), and growing surly with inaction. The Soviet plot lures him to Istanbul, where he is met by another vivid character, Darko Karim, who is head of British intelligence in Turkey.Read more ›